The 2020 Census asks cohabitating couples to define their relationship in a new way: "same-sex" or "opposite-sex.”

The question is the first time in the Census Bureau’s history was asked in its decennial survey of every household in America.

Sample question from the 2020 Census / US Census Bureau

The results of the first official Census count of this data is months away, but the agency has conducted surveys to estimate same-sex partnership data leading up to 2020.

Data from the Census’ 2018 American Community Survey (ACS) not only estimates the number of same-sex couples, but also provides a demographic and geographic understanding of such relationships.

The ACS looked at the total number of same-sex couples, same-sex married couples, and same-sex unmarried partner couples. In each type of relationship, there were more female-female couples than male-male.

The annual survey offers a glimpse into gay and lesbian couples in America, but the data is limited. Currently, the Census does not tabulate measures of alternative arrangements—such as civil unions or domestic partnerships—and the measurements of the marriage status of same-sex couples have been found by some Census research to be imperfect.

Same-sex relationships by marital status

The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples. At the time, the number of same-sex married couples and same-sex unmarried partner couples were about equal: 425,357 married and 433,539 unmarried. Since 2015, the number of same-sex married couples has risen while the number of same-sex unmarried couples has mostly declined.

In 2018, there were a total of 995,420 same-sex couples. Of these, 48% (485,065) were male-male while 51% (510,355) were female-female.

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Of the 592,561 same-sex married couples in the US, 48% (284,982) were male only and 52% (307,579) female only.

For the 402,859 same-sex unmarried partner couples, 47% (200,083) were male only. 50% (202,776) were female only.

The Demographics of Same-Sex Couples

In 2018, 81% of same-sex couples were white, 12.9% were Hispanic or Latinx, 8.2% were Black or African American, and 3.3% were Asian.

White same-sex couples were the most evenly distributed across gender. Of all male-male couples, 82.6% were white. Of all female-female couples, 79.6% were female-female.

Blacks are the only race where female-only unions outranked male-only unions. 5.9% of all male-male couples were Black while 10.5% of all female-female unions were made up of Black couples.

The numbers flip for Asian couples: 4.1% of all male-male couples were Asian. The total percentage of female-female couples who were Asian was 2.6%.

Same-sex couples had a higher percentage of mixed-race relationships than opposite-sex couples. 7.7% of married opposite-sex couples were interracial while 16.7% of same-sex couples were interracial.

Same-Sex Couples and Income

Compared with opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples were more likely to have higher incomes, both partners employed, and be more educated. In 31.8% of same-sex households, both partners had at least earned a bachelor’s degree compared with only 26.3% of opposite-sex households. In 61.7% of same-sex households, both partners were employed. In opposite-sex households, only 48.9% of both partners held jobs. While the marriage-equality gap may be shrinking, the gender-pay-gap is not: 53.4% of male-male couples made $100,000 or more while only 40.3% of female-female couples earned the same amount.

Where are same-sex couples in America?

In 2017, the ACS looked at the percentage of same-sex couple households in selected cities. The data also shows geographic differences about where same-sex couples live and which cities have the highest share of same-sex men and same-sex women couples.

Nationally, 0.8% of US households were same-sex households. Of these, 51.7% were female-female and 48.3% were male-male.

San Francisco, had the highest percentage of same-sex households among big cities: 3% of all households in San Francisco contained same-sex couples. Of the couples, 71.6% were male-male. 28.4% were female-female.

Rounding out top three: Washington, DC, where 2.9% of all households were same-sex; Portland, OR, where 2.1% of all households were same-sex.

Data from 2018 shows that Delaware leads all states with the highest share of same-sex households at 1.6%. Wyoming ranks the lowest at 0.4%, but also is the state where the highest proportion of same-sex households are married at 92.4%.

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This year’s census aims to provide precise data on same-sex couples in the US. That data will be important in understanding the makeup of American families and households.

American Community Survey